President Obama said Friday that migrant children who cross the border and do not have “proper claims” will be sent back to their home countries.
Obama made the remarks during a meeting at the White House with the leaders of three Central American countries that are home to many of the young immigrants who have been flooding across the border.
“I emphasized that the American people and my administration have great compassion for these children,” Obama told reporters gathered in the Cabinet Room at the end of the meeting, according to a White House pool report. “But I also emphasized to my friends that we have to deter a continuing influx of children putting themselves at risk.”
Obama met with Presidents Otto Pérez Molina of Guatemala, Juan Orlando Hernández of Honduras and Salvador Sánchez Cerén of El Salvador.
Obama said the leaders came to a consensus on the need to address poverty and violence in the Central American countries that the leaders say are leading many child immigrants to come to the United States.
Republicans in Congress have also blamed administration policies for suggesting to young immigrants that they will be able to stay in the United States if they cross the border.
Votes could come as early as next week in both the House and Senate on funding for border agencies to handle the influx, though leaders have indicated it will be less than the $3.7 billion requested by Obama.
A House bill could also include changes to U.S. laws that would allow the government to repatriate Central American immigrants more quickly. Most Democrats oppose such changes, but the administration had called for flexibility.
The president's comments come as reports surfaced early Friday that the Obama administration is considering a plan to grant refugee status for children in Honduras, in order to help stem the flood of youths crossing into the U.S. illegally.
More than 57,000 children have crossed the border since October from countries including Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.
Obama didn't take questions during a brief interaction with reporters and the other leaders didn't speak to reporters. But Obama called news reports from earlier in the day about the Honduras plan "a little over-cranked."
"As I explained to my fellow presidents, under U.S. law, we admit a certain number of refugees from all around the world based on some fairly narrow criteria," he said. "Typically refugee status is not granted just on economic need or because a family lives in a bad neighborhood or poverty. It’s typically defined fairly narrowly.”
Obama said there may be "some narrow circumstances in which there is humanitarian or refugee status that a family might be eligible for.
"If that were the case it would be better for them to apply in-country rather than take a very dangerous journey up to Texas to make those same claims," Obama said. "But I think it’s important to recognize that that would not necessarily accommodate a large number of additional migrants.”
But Obama stressed that he wanted to find a way that would "prevent smugglers from making money on families that feel desperate."